Teaching Beyond Myself

I connected most naturally with students who thought cleverly and quickly. If students wanted to argue from a premise, analyze an essay, or construct a geometry proof, I was their kind of teacher. But I learned early on that my skill set, though valuable, was narrow. If I taught only with my way of thinking, I would miss most of my students. My teaching would be always limited by myself. To teach well, I had to come out of myself so I could see my students, not stamp my style on them.

I remember the exact day that set me on the path to discover how my students learned, what made them curious. This was back in grammar-teaching days, and as I had prepared the lesson I suddenly grasped some logic of syntax in a way I had never before understood. Impressed with the beauty of language, I made a chart to show students, sure I could catch their interest.

But I didn’t, except for a few—the logically clever.

So I experimented with my students, trying to learn from them. I tried different openings for lessons—openings that involved emotion and action and conversation and viewing art.

Jason, I found, thought mysteriously—out of the depth of himself, from down in his guts. He was alive with instinct and feeling, and at the first approach he didn’t think. Only after he felt, did his nerves carry what he already knew to his thinking brain.

Lilly learned as she heard herself talk. Her learning launched when she activated her social brain. Discussion, not logic, fueled her understanding. Other students learned by moving or making or hearing stories.

Teaching in a way that encompassed more students took more planning, created more mess. But it held more meaning, for them and for me.


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